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Occupy the Castro


Photo: Rick Gerharter

Denise D'Anne speaks at the Occupy the Castro General Assembly in Harvey Milk plaza on Dec. 17. Offshoot Group Draws Attention to Housing Ills

By Ted Andersen

Occupy San Francisco got personal last month when a group of housing advocates created a day of local action that garnered viral cyber attention.

Occupy the Castro, a mass of over 125 demonstrators with no official membership, rallied on Dec. 3 in Harvey Milk Plaza marching to Citibank to issue an "Eviction Notice," to Bank of America, and then to the Castro Country Club to protest against its sale and the possible eviction of its residents. The demonstrators, led by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a housing advocate and 20-year Castro resident, also trekked to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to deliver a resolution asking for HRC to commit to making priorities out of local housing, homelessness and inequity problems both locally and nationally. With the police on hand, Mecca read the resolution aloud in the HRC store, the former camera shop of Harvey Milk, while being videotaped and streaming online.

"The video went viral. I couldn't believe it. The video just ended up all over the place on the Internet with comments," he said.

As a follow-up action, the group also set up a "Soap Box" in Harvey Milk Plaza on Dec. 17, in which it again pointed to the need for low-income housing in the area, the evictions of longtime residents with AIDS, real estate speculation and chronic homelessness among LGBT youth in the city.

Mecca also cited a disagreement with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener's recently introduced legislation to transfer a piece of city-owned vacant land located at 341 Corbett Ave. from the Mayor's Office of Housing to the Dept. of Public Works in order to create a park for the neighbors.

"It's another example of how it just seems like the city is not serious about housing people," said Mecca, who spoke against the land transfer at the Board of Supervisors in December, advocating instead for affordable housing to be built on the site. "I totally get the idea that the neighbors want some green space, but the reality is that the greatest need in this city, the Castro and certainly in the LGBT community is housing. And to give away land that is worth that much money, especially when that money is slated for housing for the homeless, is unjustifiable."

Wiener, whose proposal received an initial 6-5 vote and is slated to be heard again on Jan. 10, did not see it the same way.

"Whether you are talking about developing that space or selling it, neighborhood open space is a precious limited resource. Once you lose it, you don't get it back," Wiener said. "This is a centrally located open space in the neighborhood, and I don't think we should sell it off. We could go around selling off parks all over the place and make a fortune to finance all sorts of good services, but that would be a terrible mistake to sell off parks."

With affordable housing, Wiener said he has called for a hearing in January or February to discuss options to create moderate-income housing, which he sees as a larger priority.

Overall, Wiener says he supports Occupy the Castro's voicing of their opinions. "I know a lot of them and I very much respect their activism and their advocacy for affordable housing, even though I may have disagreements."

Mecca said that Occupy the Castro partly came out of Queers for Economic Equality Now (QUEEN) over the past few years in the area.

"Right now the whole Occupy thing is a good way to get people's interest and attention," he said. "This is just the current way we are having this discussion, and I'm hoping that this keeps evolving and I think there will be a next step beyond Occupy."